After a 10 day hiatus, the NBA is finally back. The first games were played on Thursday, as the stretch run towards the Larry O’Brien Trophy begins. There are already the established contenders, like the Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors, and Milwaukee Bucks, but what are the teams that could gain momentum into the playoffs, or maybe setting themselves up for free agency? To be a team to watch you must be somewhat relevant. For example, the Chicago Bulls will not be a team to watch since, well they are simply not good enough. Here are some teams to watch during the final 25 games of the season after the All-Star break.
Teams to Watch Coming Out of the All-Star Break
New Orleans Pelicans
The main reason the New Orleans Pelicans are on here is because of the Anthony Davis situation. Davis is unquestionably a top-five player in the NBA, but he recently requested a trade. He is still playing with the Pelicans as of February 22nd, but there has been speculation that the Pelicans want to shut him down for the season. If that is the case, then they will be offloading him during the offseason. However, if they don’t shut him down, then the Pelicans may be able to sneak into the playoffs. Only six games out of the eight seed, the Pelicans have the talent to make the playoffs. The question is will they want to. A playoff spot coupled with a deep run may be able to convince Davis to stay, but with no playoff spot, a high lottery pick would be a good piece to add to a Davis trade in exchange for another star. A team to watch if you are a fan of the Boston Celtics or Los Angeles Lakers. Speaking of whom…
Los Angeles Lakers
Another team to watch with ties to Anthony Davis, but the Lakers are not here because of Davis. They are here because even with the best player in the world, LeBron James, they are sitting at the 10 seed. If that holds, it would be the first time since LeBron’s second season that he would miss the playoffs. LeBron recently stated that he would be activating “Playoff LeBron” intensity for this final push. The Lakers will probably make the playoffs, but if they don’t, you have to wonder about the future of the team, if they are able to get one of the many players in this crazy talented free agency. Only Lakers fans are pegging them for the championship, but, not making the playoffs would be a BIG disappointment. In the circumstance that they get hot down the stretch, however, the Lakers are one of the teams you have to watch.
As of February 24th, the Boston Celtics are sitting at fifth place in the Eastern Conference. Not bad, but when you consider the expectations that Boston had coming into the season, it is a major letdown. Boston made the Conference Finals last year without arguably their two best players, Kyrie Irving, and Gordon Hayward. Now those players are healthy, and then everyone started to wonder what the ceiling of this team could be. Props have to be given to Milwaukee, Toronto, the Indiana Pacers, and Philadelphia 76ers, but Boston should definitely be better than what they are now. Barring a monumental collapse, Boston is going to make the playoffs, and if they can get in form by then, they are definitely one of the teams to watch.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder are in the three seed and are absolutely on fire. Winners of 12 of 14 before their loss versus the Sacramento Kings on Saturday, and they are right behind the Denver Nuggets for the two seed. However, this incredible stretch might be coming to an end. The Thunder have the hardest schedule left based on winning percentage. Paul George and Russell Westbrook have been carrying the Thunder, along with Steven Adams. The rest of the team has to come up big if they want to get a top two seed. As of right now, they are facing the Utah Jazz in the first round, and no one wants to see that team. If you are a fan of the Nuggets, Warriors, or the Portland Trail Blazers, keep an eye on the Thunder.
Woah, the Brooklyn Nets are good. Not contender good, but good enough that if the season ended today they would be playing in the postseason. They are six and a half games behind the five seed Celtics, but that is not the point. Brooklyn, with how weak the Eastern Conference is, is almost a lock to make the playoffs. D’Angelo Russell has taken a massive leap, as shown by taking over the fourth quarter versus Charlotte. They don’t have much playoff experience, but they are an interesting team to watch. With Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Caris LeVert, this team is ready to make some noise in the playoffs. They would be facing the Pacers in the first round as of right now and without Victor Oladipo that has major upset potential. While they might not be the most exciting of teams to watch, you definitely need to.
The Main Point
These teams are obviously not the only teams to watch during this final stretch. For example, the Utah Jazz sit in the six seed right now and have the easiest schedule remaining and as a team who already has playoff experience, are going to be important down the stretch. The teams listed are on this list because of their pedigree. The Pelicans have had a fairly disappointing season and have a big name they are going to get rid of in the offseason. The Lakers have the best player in the world and might not make the playoffs. The Celtics have disappointed, and the Nets have exceeded all expectations. Watching them will prove what we thought was true in the first half of the season. Will the Lakers do anything in the playoffs? Will the Celtics come out of the East? Where will AD go? Are the Thunder and Nets for real? The only way to find out is to watch.
Embed from Getty Images